Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reflections on WWI

My very first blog back in 2010 was regarding the last living veteran of WWI. He has now past away. However, my focus has once again returned to this "War to end all Wars." I am current reading "Last Post: The Final Word from our First World War Soldiers" by Max Arthur. Max is an Englishman who interviewed 21 British World War I veterans still alive in 2004. At the time of the interviews, these men were aged 104-109. Max did a good job capturing their memories of that long-ago struggle. I am also viewing a documentary entitled "The Last Voices of WWI" that interviewed vets from 1998 to 2001.

These veterans served in the infantry, the RFC (air force) or Royal Navy. The accounts of life in the trenches by the 'Poor Bloody Infantry' are challenging to comprehend. The mud, lice, stench, the filth and the times of boredom were mixed with death from artillery shells, snipers, nighttime scouting patrols and possible attach by either side. One vet commented that during the 3 years he was at the front, he bathed only twice. That is just not comprehensible to us today. Another commented that he did not have lice, "the lice had him". He said he could somehow tolerate the constant shelling, the continual threat (and sometimes reality) of the poisonous gas, the mud, the overwhelming odor of rotting horses and sometimes bodies from "no man's land" etc., but the lice nearly drove him mad.

A third vet said he never stopped thinking about (at 106 years old) his brother who was at his side when they "went over the top" in an attach against the German lines. He saw his brother fall but could not stop to help him. He found out at the end of the day that his brother had been killed. "It broke my heart when he died. I would have liked to die with him, but I didn't and here I am today."

In the documentary, one of the vets started to tell about how shrapnel from one artillery shell killed 3 of his friends. As he spoke, this 105 year old man broke down and said he never before was able to talk about that dreadful day in his life.

In reading and listening to these accounts, I am humbled by their sacrifice and greatly admire these old soldiers. Here we are almost 100 years later, and life is so very good for most of us here in the U.S. This is in part a result of what these brave young men were willing to endure to maintain freedom and restore peace, albeit temporarily, within the world that they lived.  As I reflect on the almost 120,000 U.S. soldiers that died in WWI, I cannot help but feel that all in all, little has changed here on earth when it comes to mankind's inability to live peacefully with each other. War continues, and men continue to kill each other. Several of the interviewees commented on that fact and made statements as to how useless war really is. Although I love to study history and the wars that raged, I have to agree with them.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mexican-American War

Mexican-American War Cliff Notes: I have been reminded lately that it has been a LONG time since I have been back to this blog. So I thought I would share some insights I recently learned from 2 books I recently finished about the Mexican-American War (1846-1847). I think if you asked the average American citizen on the street (if there is such a thing)if the United States ever fought a war against Mexico, most people, if they were honest about it, would say no or they don't know. I doubt if Jay Leno would know either without referring to his staff of writers. The Civil War that began barely a decade later overshadows this time in history. At the time this occurred, many called this conflict President Polk's War and felt it was very unjust. My understanding of the cause of the war was the debate as to where the southern border of the US terminated and were the lands of Mexico began. The US understood the border to be the Rio Grande River (as it is today). Mexico understood the boundary to be the Nueces River that is about 100 miles farther North. Both nations sent troops to enforce their competing claims, and a standoff ensued. Finally in the Spring of 1846, the Mexican troops ambushed the American troops on soil claimed by both countries. Eleven American troopers were killed and the war was underway. President Polk eagerly sought this war in order to seize larger tracts of land from Mexico. So if I have not lost you yet, here is a Cliff notes review of the war. The Mexican-American War was the first major war driven by the concept of "Manifest Destiny"; the belief that America had a God-given right to expand the country's borders from 'sea to shining sea'. President Polk had an aggressive expansionist policy. Also during his term the Oregon question was settled (the U.S. and Britain agreeing to divide the Pacific Northwest between them at the 49th parallel) and for the first time the territory of the United States extended to the Pacific Ocean. SIDE NOTE: James Polk was the youngest president to serve at the time of his inauguration at just 49 years old and he died of cholera only three months after leaving office. Although there were numerous battles fought during these 2 years, the most compelling story is that of the US army led by General Winfield Scott. He completed the first major amphibious landing of American troops on the beaches near Veracruz. His army consisted of about 10,000 men. The first major battle with the Mexican army that was lead by Santa Anna was fought at Veracruz. Although the Americans were outnumbered 3 to one, they won each battle fought with the Mexican during this campaign. From there, General Scott did the unthinkable. He separated his army from its supply base and began to march inland toward Mexico City. Several major battles were fought along the way from Mid-April to mid-September 1847, many with a high loss of lives on each side. These battles and locations are not names we recognize; Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino Del Rey and Chapultepec. This is unlike the familiar names of major Civil War battle locations that where fought; such as Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam, etc.) However, many young Americans gave their lives fighting for our country south of our boarder. In the end, the U.S. army was victorious and in February 1848, a Treaty was inked. The treaty called for the annexation of the northern portions of Mexico to the United States. In return, the U.S. agreed to pay $15 million to Mexico for the territory that was gained. Two major reasons for the victory were 1) the superior cannon of the U.S. artillery and 2) the strategies used by the U.S. officers turned the tide against the Mexicans. The war cost the United States over $100 million, and the lives of over 10,000 Americans were lost. America had defeated its weaker for, but paid a very high price in doing so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Clara Troost Bartels (continued) Clara also stayed at the home of other family members from time to time including Juke and Tena Bartels. This also occurred during 1944 & 1945 while Juke was in the Army Air Corp during WWII and Tena was home with 4 children. Johanna was also later widowed and since her children were grown and married she and Clara moved to Zeeland. They lived in a comfortable home 2 houses distance from the (former) Van Raaltes Restaurant. Later the church near them bought this property for a parking lot and they moved again. This time they moved to modern condominium in Zeeland. Great grandma Bartels treated all the relatives with mittens, sweaters, scarves, booties, slippers and afghans whenever she could. She did beautiful work and a lot of it. Even after she turned 90 hears old she made over 60 Afghans. Great Grandma was always quite healthy. Right up until her late 90’s she was hardly ever ill. However, her hearing began to fail as she got older. In her late 90’s she would usually get rather sick once a year, but with her great will would always bounce back and start working again. At some point in his adult life, John Bartels went to the courthouse for his first set of citizenship papers, but for some unknown reason, he never followed through with the process. Clara never did try to secure her citizenship. She thought it to be too difficult, and besides, she already felt like a citizen since she had been in the U.S. since she was 8 years old. In 1973, LaVerne Hoeksema asked Clara (his grandma)if she was willing to go through the necessary procedure and become a citizen for her 100th birthday. Since the family members offered to do the work, she agreed. What a special event that was for all of the family. At the golden age of 100, she became a citizen of the country where she spent 92 years of her life, and for which her eldest son died in battle to keep her, and all of us free! This was headline news in the Holland Evening Sentinel, the area's daily newspaper. Clara Troost Bartels died on May 30, 1974, 100 years and approximately 6 months after celebrating her 100th birthday. She was a hard working woman who endured much sorry (with the death of 2 children and her husband) and also realized times of great joy. She loved her family and the God that created her, and her family loved her.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Clara Troost Bartels

Clara Troost Bartels

My great grandma Clara was born on November 20, 1873. Just 8 short years after the civil war ended here in the United States. Her parents were Klaas Troost and Aaltje Dominee Troost. The family made a once in a lifetime decision in the spring of 1882 to relocate to America. In late April of 1882, they set sail from Amsterdam, Netherlands for the port of New York. They were aboard the vessel “Jason”, a small ship constructed in 1866. The vessel was 248 feet long with a beam of just 32 feet. According to the records found (including a copy of the original ship’s log – only the first letter of the first name of each child is listed in the log) aboard the ship were; Klaas (47 years old), Aaltje (48), (J) Jan (John at 17), (L) Lambertus (Bert at 14), (H) Henrik (Henry at 11), (Kl) Klaasje (Clara at 8), (R) Roelof (Ralph at 5), (J) Jantje (Jennie at 4), and Clara’s grandmother. The 4 week long journey ended with the arrival in New York on May 13, 1882.

At this point in the blog, I am going to start inserting portions of a high school English paper that was written by a great granddaughter of Clara; Terri Hoeksema (daughter of Vern Hoeksema). I was not smart enough to interview my great gandmother when she was alive, but thankfully one of her other grandchildren completed this task. Except for a few spelling corrections, I have made very few edits of what she wrote and I have noted my inserts to the story.

My great grandma Bartels was not one that talked about her past much or told stories. But she told me and others enough about her life that we can get a vague picture of what it was like. That is what I am going to try to do here. From what great grandma told me herself, and what my relatives can tell me, especially my grandma Hoeksema (Mrs. Bartels daughter), and the little I know I have pieced together a story about great grandmother’s life.

Biography of Clara Troost Bartels

It was a confused little girl that stood arms resting on the side of the boat, looking at the receding land which was her home country, the Netherlands. That little girl was Klaasje Troost and at the age of eight she was leaving the Netherlands and home for the United States and a new life. As the land faded from sight Klaasje sighed and turned away. She might as well get used to her new temporary home aboard ship. “It may not be so bad” she thought. At least it will not be lonely for with her were her parents, five brothers and her grandmother.
The 4 weeks aboard ship went slow. The ocean was rough and the people on deck became less and less as the voyage continued. Some of the passengers were seasick but many others were ill due to a sickness brought on by the unsanitary conditions. They stayed confined to their beds. Some even died. Thankfully, Klaasje and her family reached New York together. Even though none of the family died a few were still weak from being sick. After a brief rest in New York they boarded another boat heading up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes. This trip was not as rough as the Atlantic Ocean voyage. The family began to get their first good look at America during this leg of the trip. Their stay in New York was brief, but along the way they stopped at a few cities and soon but together a general idea of what their new country would look like.

Klaasje thought that she would never forget that day in 1882 when she stood on the land of her new home. Soon, they were finally to their final destination near Zeeland, Michigan. The entire family gathered around to rejoice, pray and thank God for providing the safe journey. The area was mostly covered with dense forest with a few swamps, but clearings with a few small farms were also noticed around the Zeeland area.

The other families that traveled with the Troost split up and when their own ways upon reaching Zeeland. Many when to stay with relatives that had previously made the trip. This was also true for the Troost. They traveled to Raaks house about 6 miles from Zeeland. Their relatives were overjoyed to see them and so very glad that everyone made it safely.

Many days in the coming months, Klaasje thought about all that she had left behind in the Netherlands. She spent the first 8 years of her life in the province of Overisal in the Netherlands. Clasha kept up with her brothers, she was a regular tomboy. She attended school for a few years in the Netherlands and remembered that she enjoyed it. One other memory of her childhood overseas is that she really enjoyed ice skating in the wintertime.

The time seemed to fly by as the family built their home in North Holland. Clasha realized that she could enjoy some of the same activities here that she did in the Netherlands. She was soon climbing maple trees with her brothers when they ha free time, which wasn’t often. There was a lot of work to do around the new home and she did all that she could at 8 years old. However, school would start soon and she would be relieved of some of her work.

Just when the family was starting to get used to and appreciate the new home they were making, tragedy struck. Grandma became more ill and 13 days after they had come to Zeeland she died. Klasha knew what her mother was going to tell her that day when she approached her with a weary expression on her face. Her mother stroked her hair and started to speak, but Klaasje just hugged her mother’s waist and let the tears flow. “At least she made it to America” Klaasje thought.

After the funeral, the work on the house and the fields continued. However, soon school started and her time was split between home, school and church on Sundays. Each Sunday the entire family would dress in their best clothes and leave the house early for the 3 ½ mile walk to the church in New Holland. After the Dutch services were over, they would make the same 3 ½ mile walk home.

Time went by quickly as the family continued to build their new home and lives in Zeeland. Soon the time came when Klaasje was old enough to work out of the home. While she looked for work throughout the area, she discovered that people had difficulty with her name. It was humorous at first but soon became annoying. She discussed this with her parents and obtained their approval to change her name to “Clara.” As Clara, she came upon a job as maid to the doctor in Zeeland, Dr. Daniel Baert. The doctor was a well known person so she considered it a complement when hired as the Baert’s maid.

The Baert house was a beautiful red brick Italian style home. Clara knew they we wealth but the site of the house still caught her breath that first day she say the structure with the lead glass windows. She hurried up the steps to the door and knocked. Another maid welcomed her into the house. Clara saw that the inside was just as glamorous as the outside as she was lead through the home to meet the family. Clara found herself liking the family and vowed to do her very best work for them. She enjoyed her life inside the Baert home. However, soon something else entered her life that she enjoyed more.

John Bartels was a handsome and dashing young man who lived in Zeeland also. Clara saw him in town when she was on errands for the Baerts and though she liked this handsome young man. She was concerned however about him noticing her since she was seven years younger than. At last, they did start to speak to each other when they met and they enjoyed many happy times together.

The event that occurred when she knew that her feelings for John were deepening was when they caught the Inter-Urban train in Zeeland. It was crowded for a special celebration in Jenison Park. They squeezed into one of the cars and enjoyed themselves for the 9 mile trip. As they got off the train, they melted into the crowd and joined them in the celebration. Soon the exciting day came to an end and it was time to board the Inter-Urban for the trip home. However, when John and Clara came back to the station, not an empty space could be found. They walked along side car after car looking for some space to board, but as they did so the Inter-Urban pulled away headed back to Zeeland without them. Since it was getting lat, John thought it over quickly and decided that they had better start walking if they wanted to get back home. Clara appreciated John taking charge and staying with her all the way until they returned home. By that time it was 4:00 in the morning and her parents were worried and angry when they learned that they had missed the train. Poor John had to listen to Clara’s parents and then return home to hear from his own parents as well.

After more time had gone by, John and Clara decided to marry. Both of their parents agreed with this very important life decision. So on October 28, 1892, Clara became John’s husband; Clara Troost Bartels. Clara was 19 and John was 26 years old.
They wasted no time in starting their own farm. Work on their new home began in November of 1892 after clearing the land. The wood framed farmhouse stood on Tyler Street, near 128th Ave in Olive Township. Clara helped John with the farm. It was hard work but the two of them were a happy husband and wife. They grew grain and hay for the cows and pickles in the summer for a cash crop.

Clara also helped out her aging parents during their early married years. Only she and her younger brother Henry were still in this area of Western Michigan. Her older brothers John and Bert and her younger brother Ralph and their families had moved to the state of Washington to find work. Her younger sister Jennie had also moved away.
The years of 1893 and 1894 were years of establishment; not only for the farmland and farmhouse, but also for the family. Clara was expecting their firstborn child and on October 1, 1894, a son was born. They named him Herman John Bartels (probably for his father John and John’s father Hermanus). They were happy to have a son that would grow up to be an asset to the farm, but most of all, they loved him.
In the years that followed, little Herman gained brothers and sisters. Following Herman were; Charles, John, Alice, Benjamin, Johanna and Henrietta. It took a lot of hard work to make their farm support the family comfortably. John was challenged with the farm work and Clara with the family and home as well as helping with the farm. These years were filled with joys and heartaches, health and sickness, hard work and little play, baby things and needs, education for the older children and cries for mommy to help the little ones. John and Clara took all this in stride as the loved the children and enjoyed bringing them up in a Christian home.

(Terry Bartels insert) The year 1917 had to be one of mixed emotions for Clara. Probably in April or May, Clara (at the age of 43) would have known that she was expecting her eighth child. I would guess this was an unexpected blessing. Their youngest daughter Henrietta was now 5 years old and having one in diapers again would have been a challenge at this age. The 5 children that remained at home ranged from 5 to 17 years old. (a situation to be repeated 40 years later when my mother (Tena Bartels) gave birth to twins at the age of 42 with 8 other children at home including a 4 year old (me)).

(Terry Bartels insert)Also at this time, President Wilson and the Congress had declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917 and many young men throughout the United States would soon be drafted into the army. This included Clara’s sons Herman and Charles. Both young men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. At 22 years old, Herman was the oldest child and he had already left home to start his own life working on a farm in Fillmore Township south of Holland. His brother Charles, then 20 years old, was dating a young lady by the name of Henrietta Harsevoort. Herman also had a girl friend but no one knows what her name was or how serious of a relationship they had. Both of them reported for duty in the early fall of 1917.

On January 5, 1918, Clara gave birth to a 4th daughter, Janet Clara Bartels. Janet was frail from birth and was an unhealthy infant. On May 28, 1918 she died of acute bronchial pneumonia (per the death certificate). Losing a 5 month old infant was a shock to the family, but most of all to Clara. At this time in history it was not all that uncommon for children to die, but the loss was tragic. They borrowed a camera and took a picture of Janet so she would not be forgotten. With good Christian attitudes, John and Clara thanked God that they had only lost one child when so many families had lost more, so much more. But soon they were troubled again.

(Terry Bartels insert) Herman had reported to boot camp in late August of 1917 and in February 1918 shipped out to France with the 126th Infantry of the 32nd Division with thousands of other young men from West Michigan. On May 21, 1918 Herman entered the war (based on the History of the 32nd Division). On August 30, 1918 Herman was killed in action. News of this probably would have taken a couple of weeks to reach the family. Undoubtedly there were letters exchanged between Herman and his parents while he was in France, but none are known to still exist.

It was the fall of 1918 and everyone who could help with the harvest was out in the fields. Clara straightened her body for a moment and brushed her hair away from her perspiring forehead. As she did this she glanced toward the opposite end of the field where the house and barn stood. She squinted and saw a woman making her way towards them. Soon she recognized her as the aunt who was the telephone operator for a couple of telephone lines. As she got closer Clara noticed the aunt had a sad and worried look. Clara became concerned and called John over to her side. Just then the aunt reached them. After pausing a moment she announced in a sad tone of voice that she had bad news. Herman had been killed in Battle. The news was very hard to take for it was the 2nd child they lost within 6 months. They would never get totally over their grief, but there were other children to care for and many other things to do.

(Terry Bartels insert) Every American soldier in WWI was encouraged to signed forms for his family to receive death benefits in the event of their death while in the service. According to relatives living in 2009, John and Clara were not able to spend any of the funds they received from the army for many years. Eventually, they were emotionally able to spend some of this money and much of it was used to help others. This is a tribute to the kind of character and integrity (and love for their son) that they had.

(Terry Bartels insert) In January of 1921, the old wounds of Herman’s death were opened up again. The army was retuning his remains to the states after being temporarily interned in France since his death. His remains were returned to Holland Michigan on December 31, 1920 and on Tuesday, January 4, 1921, a military memorial service was held at Harlem Reformed Church to remember and honor him.

During the 1920’s new inventions were being made continually impacting the way that life was lived. Radios, airplanes, advertising and the automobile were but a few. John Bartels bought his first car in 1923, it was a Model T Ford. When he went to get the car, he did not know how to drive it but said he would learn. As soon as he started driving home, he lost control of the car weaving from side to side and finally ending up in the ditch. He was unhurt and the car was not damaged. He found that it was not quite as easy to drive a car as he thought. The family laughed about dad’s incident with the car for a long time.

In the years that followed, the children met and married mates that they loved. As John continued into the latter years of his life, his health began to fail and the year 1939 brought a great change to Clara’s life. On November 25, she lost her husband and companion of 47 years. John was 73 years old when he died. According to his death certificate, John died from his appendix rupturing causing “gangrenous appendicitis with abscess formation” This must have caused him tremendous pain just before his death. This left Clara with only her memories and their beautiful life together.

Photo 2 - John and Clara Bartels in the late 1930’s

Not long after this, Clara’s second daughter Johanna Bartels Jekel invited her mother to live with the Jekel family in a large farm house on 112th Ave in Olive Township. In addition to helping the family with the house work, Clara spent some time with the grandchildren and knitted and crocheted. (to be continued)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Egbert Vander Kooi - Family Hero #2 (final)

Following his (and his company’s) gallant actions to rescue the infantry from their pinned down position, the 775th Tank Battalion continued to support the 1st Battalion of the 126th Infantry through April 10, 1945. On April 11, the 775th was reassigned to the 37th Infantry Division. They were weary, but they fought on. For 3 weeks, Uncle Eg’s Battalion spearheaded the attack that resulted in the following casualties that he listed in his 3 page military history: the Americans lost 2 men killed and 8 men wounded, 3 tanks damaged but repaired and one tank lost over a cliff. The Japanese lost 375 killed, very few taken as prisoners, 3 anti-tank guns destroyed and over 20 pieces of artillery destroyed. On May 4, his company was finally sent behind the lines for a much needed rest.
They returned to the front lines on June 7 and on June 19 ran into an enemy tank attack. He listed 2 men by name that were killed in this action (undoubtedly, these men had meant a lot to him) and again mentions the enemy’s losses; 8 tanks destroyed and over 100 Japanese killed.
The last sentence of his military history states: “Went home with the 37th Infantry Division, spent my last evening with Pete Brower and Henry Gimbouros from Grand Haven” These were 3 very fortunate men that had just fought a long and incredible intense battle with an enemy that refused to surrender, except in very rare cases. The Japanese were brainwashed to fight to the death or kill themselves. To be taken prisoner was the ultimate disgrace for them and their families back home.
Egbert finally returned home to West Michigan in late December of 1945. My mother told me that the Christmas of 1945 was oone of her her happiest since her husband, her brother Egbert and brother-in-law Tony all returned home safely around that time.
I have read (or listened to) well over 200 books about our nation’s history and wars. One common theme that is sometimes mentioned is that the veterans of WWII (and wars prior to that) were typically left on their own to deal with their feelings. Post-traumatic stress disorder was real, but not a known reality to the army in 1945. The transition from the constant danger of death and being surrounded by brutal acts of war into the normal civilian life was very difficult for most of these young men. Many of the events that these men witnessed were so disturbing that they did not want to recall or talk about them. Some were haunted by nightmares related to what they had seen, done and experienced for decades and sometimes for the balance of their lives. I have no idea if Uncle Eg was one of these men who struggled with flashbacks and nightmares. But ever though he is no longer with us here on earth, my admiration for him as a Christian man who took care of his friends in battle and his wife when they needed him continues to grow. It greaves me some that I never said thank you for all he did for all of us. So I will say it now. Thank you Uncle Eg for your sacrifice so that I and my family remain free. To me, you are an American hero for what you did overseas, and a Vander Kooi family hero for all you did when you returned home.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Egbert Vander Kooi - Family Hero #2 (cont.)

Fort Knox is where Uncle Eg’s assignment to the Armored Division begins with being assigned to the 8th armored unit. On September 27, 1943 he joined the 775th Tank Battalion. He would make the 775th his “home” until his discharge following the end of the war. Training with the 775th occurred in both Louisiana and California. On May 28, 1944, he shipped out toward war and first landed at Oro Bay New Guinea on June 20, 1944. He crossed the Stanley Mountains in support of the 32nd Division (the Red Arrow Division from Michigan and Wisconsin) and remained in New Guinea until just before Christmas 1944. We do not know any details about his time in New Guinea, but I recently read a book about the 32nd Division entilted "The Ghost Mountain Boys". This was jungle fighting at its worst. It was a long horrendous battle against the Japanese to win victory in the jungles of New Guinea.

He landed on the beach at Luzon Philippines Christmas Day 1944. This must have been a rather unusual way to celebrate Jesus birth. In the Philippines, it appears that Egbert was initially in almost constant battle. The 775th tank battalion was once again assigned to the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division. [Ironically, the 126th Inf. Reg. was the unit that my great Uncle Herman Bartels fought and died with during WWI]. The tanks and infantry worked together to attach the Japanese defending the mountains of Northern Luzon. In his three page “Military History” he writes “Was assigned to the 32nd Inf. Regt. Worked with all three Battalions (1st, 2nd & 3rd) in the mountains of Northern Luzon. Killed a lot of Nips and knocked out a lot of their equipment. Gave the Nips the surprise of their life by bringing a tank on a high hill where the infantry was pinned down. Did a good job and saved a lot of Dough Boys.”
I need to pause here a moment. Although he took a few minutes to write down some facts in this brief paragraph, he seems to write without emotion. This had to be a tremendously tough act of bravery, and yet he makes it sound like just another day. The fact that he was a modest and reserved man is demonstrated here. This was my Uncle Egbert’s short account of this battle. However, I am thankful that a newspaper article remains also giving an account of this portion of the horrific battle that occurred in Luzon early in 1945. The article helps capture the brave actions he took to come to the aid of his fellow soldiers who were in a desperate situation.

The following is the exact text from a copy of the 1945 newspaper article. The original was tattered & yellowed and a few words are missing. The publication and exact date is unknown.

The 775th Tank Battalion trained with live ammunition in the Luzon (Philippine) swamps, also trained in the New Guinea jungle. They are (now) blasting Nips in Northern Luzon and the infantry called them “mountain goats.” They scale the razorback ridges at which even the jeeps jibe. (The tanks) crash their own roads through trees and boulders and flirt with precipices from which they look down on the artillery’s grasshopper plains.
Lt. Egbert J. Vander Kooi of Zeeland, a platoon leader won the Bronze Star medal along with 3 crew members of one of _____ for an exploit in the Luzon Mountains. The infantry company that they were attached was held up by Jap strong points on the next ridge, 600 yards away. Artillery and mortar fire had no effect on the dug in Japs.
The infantry commander did not think a tank could climb the ridge, but Lt. Vander Kooi obtained his permission to try. With the lieutenant leading the way on foot, scouting a route, the tank inched and twisted up the ridge, nosing over trees and around boulders and skidding perilously at times on loose soil and rock.
Under intense sniper, machine gun, mortar and artillery fire all the way, the tank gained the crest and blasted the Jap pillboxes with point blank fire and made it possible for the infantry to cross the valley and take the ridge.
(to be continued)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Egbert Vander Kooi - Family Hero #2

Egbert J Vander Kooi (Uncle Eg to me) is pictured on the left above in this army uniform in 1946. He was one of my mother’s younger brothers. Egbert was born to Johannas & Bertha (Baukje) Vander Kooi on November 23, 1918, just 12 days after the end of WWI. Johannas & Bertha both came to the United States from the Netherlands in 1903 and 1889 respectively. My grandpa was 22 and my grandma just 9 when they arrived in our great country. I don’t know a great deal about Egbert’s early life. However, it is known that my mother, Egbert and their siblings grew up on a farm that was heartbreakingly lost during the great depression. That was not all that of an uncommon event during the 1930’s. However, Egbert’s youngest brother Dave (pitchered above on the right) says it was really the hand of God as the farm where they moved had much richer soil that gained them a higher crop yield. The house however was smaller.

Egbert and Dave were very good friends of my father and his brother Tony Bartels. Every Saturday night the 4 of them would go to the Colonial Theater in Holland to see a movie and the newsreels of the war in Europe. After the show they would go to the very first Russ’ Restaurant to get chocolate milk and a hamburger, both for 25 cents.

On March 21, 1941 he enlisted into the army at the age of 22. However, before I share with you what I have found out about this very brave leader in battle, I want to reflect on the man as I knew him. When our family moved from the farm to Zeeland during the summer of 1966, Uncle Eg’s house was less than one block away. He was a quiet man that had a kind heart and incredible love and compassion for his wife Beatrice. “Aunt Beat” showed the signs of Parkinson for the entire time that my memory reaches back. He took care of his wife with much patience and tenderness. I admired him greatly for this.

I recall a time in 1968 when I was a sophomore in high school. Uncle Eg asked me to mow his lawn for him. He had one of the smallest lawns in the city and he could probably have mowed it himself, but did this to help me. I was not really excepting to get paid for the task. However, he did place some bills in my hand when the job was complete. When I saw how much it was I recall commenting that I thought it was more than I deserved for such a small lawn. He just replied that I did a good job and he appreciated me doing this for him. I am also mindful of all the kind things he did for my mother after my father died. That was the kind of man he was, unselfish and giving of himself to help others.

So, back to the beginning; on March 21, 1941 he enlisted into the army at the age of 22. His official enlistment record shares some facts with us. He enlisted as a private in Kalamazoo and indicated his occupation as a cabinet maker. He was single, had a grammar school education and was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 162 pounds.

The fact that he enlisted prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is an indicator to me that he was a young patriot. He saw the newsreels in the theatre about the war going on in Europe and other places and must have wanted to serve his country. The first few days in the Army were spent relatively close to home at Camp Custer near Battle Creek Michigan. He then shipped out to Camp Roberts in California for his basic training. The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941 he was transferred to the Los Angeles area to guard the west coast in the event the Japanese tried to attach the mainland. He remained there until late May of 1942 when he went through more training at bases on the west coast. Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.) at Fort Knox, Kentucky followed from December 1942 until the end of March 1943. (to be continued)